Love is everlasting

Published 10:24 am Monday, February 15, 2010

FRANKLIN—In 71 years of marriage, Garland and Bernice Lance have never had an argument.

“It’s true,” 96-year-old Garland says, leaning forward in a chair Thursday at East Pavilion. “We’ve disagreed and had different opinions and ideas, but we would always sit down and discuss it. You have to use your head. A discussion is an exchange of knowledge, and an argument is an exchange of

ignorance. I heard that a long time ago. I can’t remember where.”

These days, every minute together is precious for the couple. That’s because Garland lives at the Village at Woods Edge, while Bernice has taken up residence for the past year at East Pavilion.

He gets in his 1997 Buick LeSabre and makes the half-mile trip from one place to the other nearly every day to see his wife, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We just sit together,” he says about their visits, as she looks at him and smiles. “I talk if she’s alert and awake.”

She interacts with visitors and residents and is quick to laugh and smile, although it’s getting harder for people other than her husband to understand every word.

Melissa Decker, activities director at East Pavilion, says Garland dotes daily on his 93-year-old wife.

“He wants to still take care of her,” she says. “He is always asking us if she’s OK. You can just tell how deeply they love each other.”

The Lances were married on Sept. 10, 1938. They met in their hometown of West Asheville, N.C.

“We just met each other running around,” he recalls.

With the exception of this past year, the couple has been separated only one other time in their seven-decade relationship.

Earlier in their marriage, they spent three years apart while he was with the Army Third Air Commando Group in the South Pacific during World War II.

“It was horrible, miserable and lonesome,” he recalls, his eyes welling up with tears. “Anyone who says they weren’t scared is lying. I couldn’t wait to get home.”

“They’ve been through a lot of hard times, but through it all they managed to work together,” their daughter, Carolyn Boothe, says during a telephone conversation while on vacation in Florida. “They’ve always been together, since she was 21 and he was 25. They are each other’s life.”

The couple moved from North Carolina to Franklin 10 years ago to be closer to their daughter. Earlier, Garland had retired after 40 years of working in the engineering department for American ENKA Corp., a rayon manufacturer. Bernice retired as a shoe saleswoman at Belk.

“We were getting old,” Lance says with a laugh about their decision to move.

They lived in Forest Pines Apartments before moving to the Village at Woods Edge. On Dec. 8, 2008, Bernice, who needed more medical attention, transferred to East Pavilion.

“It makes the room so lonesome and dark,” he says about his small apartment at the Village. “I try to see her as much as I can.”

As Valentine’s Day nears, Garland reflects on his long, successful marriage.

“We both worked at it. It takes two to get married and two to make a marriage work,” he says. “Each one seemed to have the attitude that we cared more for the other than we cared for ourselves.

The Bible says a man shall choose a wife and they shall become one flesh, and we did.”

Boothe says her parents’ commitment to each other comes from mutual respect.

“They love each other dearly, but it’s more than that,” she says. “There’s a respect for each other — each other’s property, as well as feelings.”

Though he’s modest, Lane does divulge one sweet thing his wife has said about him.

“I’ve heard her tell people she has the best man in the world,” he says.

“Yes, I have,” she answers.

“See?” he says, grinning widely. “Two people with the right attitude don’t have too many problems.”